What is a Toad Lily?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The toad lily is a name for approximately 20 species of flowering perennial plants that belong to the genus Tricyrtis. The flowers resemble orchids, and often bloom in the fall after other plants are finished blooming. The toad lily is native to areas of Asia, and they grow in gardens all over the world. They are low maintenance plants that are popular for their unique blooms and the ability to add some interest and color to gardens in the fall.

With size varying according to species, the toad lily usually grows to a height of one to three feet (30.5 to 91 cm) and spreads out to a width of one to two feet (30.5 to 61 cm). The oval, three to four inch (7.6 to 10 cm) long leaves are usually light green in color, and occasionally have darker colored spots. The stems are tall and slender, with a slight curve, and often covered with hair-like fuzz; the most commonly available species, Tricyrtis hirta, is often called the hairy toad lily. The flowers resemble orchids, with a bell-like shape that flares out into separate petals, with prominent stamens in the center. Depending on the species, there is a wide range of colors, with many having a speckled, spotted appearance; common colors include purple, pink and yellow.

There are a few interesting theories about how the toad lily got its name. One theory is that it was named because the spotted appearance of the flowers was reminiscent of the spots on a toad. Another theory is that the name stems from the reputed practice of a native Philippine tribe of using the juice of the plant while collecting frogs to attract the frogs and make them less slippery when caught.

The native area of the toad lily is in Asia, ranging from the Himalayas to China, Taiwan, and Japan. It is cultivated in gardens all over the world, and thrives in a temperate climate with plenty of available shade and moisture. Common uses in the garden include borders, flower beds, and containers; many gardeners like to place them where the unique details of the blossoms are easy to see. The fact that they often flower after other plants have finished blooming can make them a garden focal point in fall months.

The toad lily is a relatively low maintenance plant. They do well in moist soil with high concentrations of organic matter, and soil can be improved by mixing in compost or decaying leaves for healthier plants. The ideal location will have partial sun or shade. They need to be watered on a regular basis, although they can tolerate short dry periods once they are well established. They can be propagated in the spring by digging up the plant, dividing into smaller sections and replanting, or by planting seeds.

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